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Python Essential Reference (4th Edition) Paperback – July 19, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0672329784 ISBN-10: 0672329786 Edition: 4th

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Python Essential Referenceis the definitive reference guide to the Python programming language — the one authoritative handbook that reliably untangles and explains both the core Python language and the most essential parts of the Python library.

Designed for the professional programmer, the book is concise, to the point, and highly accessible. It also includes detailed information on the Python library and many advanced subjects that is not available in either the official Python documentation or any other single reference source.


Thoroughly updated to reflect the significant new programming language features and library modules that have been introduced in Python 2.6 and Python 3, the fourth edition ofPython Essential Referenceis the definitive guide for programmers who need to modernize existing Python code or who are planning an eventual migration to Python 3. Programmers starting a new Python project will find detailed coverage of contemporary Python programming idioms.


This fourth edition ofPython Essential Referencefeatures numerous improvements, additions, and updates:

  • Coverage of new language features, libraries, and modules
  • Practical coverage of Python's more advanced features including generators, coroutines, closures, metaclasses, and decorators
  • Expanded coverage of library modules related to concurrent programming including threads, subprocesses, and the new multiprocessing module
  • Up-to-the-minute coverage of how to use Python 2.6's forward compatibility mode to evaluate code for Python 3 compatibility
  • Improved organization for even faster answers and better usability
  • Updates to reflect modern Python programming style and idioms
  • Updated and improved example code
  • Deep coverage of low-level system and networking library modules — including options not covered in the standard documentation


About the Author

David M. Beazley has been programming Python since 1996. While working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he helped pioneer the use of Python with scientific computing software. Through his company, Dabeaz LLC, he provides software development, training, and consulting related to the practical use of dynamic programming languages such as Python, Ruby, and Perl, especially in systems programming. He is author of all previous editions of Python Essential Reference, and was contributing author of Steve Holden’s Python Web Programming.  He is a member of the Python Software Foundation.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 717 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 4 edition (July 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0672329786
  • ISBN-13: 978-0672329784
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I've been programming computers of various sorts for more than 25 years. For the most part, I would consider myself to be a die-hard C programmer although I have to admit that I also really like assembly language programming. Oddly enough, however, I'm probably best known for my work with the Python programming language. I first came across Python in 1996 when I was writing high-performance software for supercomputers. At the time, I became interested in using it as a control-language for interfacing with software components written in C. As a result, I wrote some tools to simplify this process and became fairly active in the Python community. Python is definitely my language of choice for doing just about everything that would be annoyingly tedious to do in C.

Customer Reviews

This book has been, by far, one of the best programming reference books I have ever used.
The Good: this book is approximately 700 pages long; even so, it's not that bulky and is therefore quite manageable.
Alexandros Gezerlis
If you're an experienced programmer in another language and want to learn Python, this book is fine.
Matt Ginsberg

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Alexandros Gezerlis on March 3, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
David Beazley's "Python Essential Reference, Fourth Edition" covers Python 2.6 and 3.0, and is thus quite (though not completely) up to date. The author has in essence chosen to present the intersection of the two branches, i.e. omit features of Python 2 that have been removed from Python 3. This volume's pace is rapid and the coverage is quite extensive, so this probably shouldn't be the first Python book one reads.

The Good: this book is approximately 700 pages long; even so, it's not that bulky and is therefore quite manageable. It is split into two parts: 200 pages on the language and roughly 400 pages on the library. The first part is very good, while the second part is unrivaled as of this writing (though this may change when Doug Hellmann's "The Python Standard Library by Example" comes out). Thus, the reader essentially gets two books for the price of one: the part on the language can be read linearly, while the library part can be read in chunks as the need arises. The book also includes an extremely useful Index which is approximately 80 pages long (and also contains unexpected entries, e.g. "chicken, multithreaded, 414"). Moving on to the material covered: Beazley includes an appendix on Python 3-specific concepts, but also offers useful advice on Python 3 throughout the main text (e.g. "To keep your brain from exploding, encoded byte strings and unencoded strings should never be mixed together in expressions"). I particularly enjoyed the sections on decorators, generators, and coroutines in the chapter on functional programming. Beazley has also posted on his website two tutorials on these topics that nicely complement the material in the book.
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84 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Tom G. on August 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
The author of Python Essential Reference is David Beazley, who among other occupations created the open-source SWIG tool and the WAD mixed-languages debugger. His background is pervading throughout the book, in which the reader gets a clear sense of what is happening behind the Python programming language and learns how to use it efficiently instead of considering it as a black box.

The first 20 pages give an overview of the language and although it is called a "tutorial introduction", it should be understood that its purpose is for a programmer to see what Python looks like, and not for a novice to get their first programming course.

The next 156 pages offer a thorough review of the language and its environment. This is a very interesting part and should not be skipped even by people who already know Python. I said "review" but an experienced programmer should be able to learn the language by reading those chapters and putting them into practice with extra exercises.

Instead of simply describing the language, the author also hands out tricks of the trade, showing how to acquire good coding habits while using an sensible approach regarding the performance, which is often essential in a dynamic language. The fourth edition is focusing on version 2.6 but offers some historical perspective by pointing out several elements that were recently improved, or which are about to change in upcoming versions.

The first part of the book concludes with useful recommendations on program debugging and profiling.

The second part contains 388 pages and goes through the Python library, presenting the essential modules together with examples, notes and advices. After all, this is a reference, so we shouldn't expect any less.
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Robert Hancock on August 4, 2009
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I've worked in C, C++, and Java, and for the last six years in Python. This is the book I've been looking for. If you want to know how the language works under the covers and how to best use it, this book is invaluable. The explanation of co-routines and generators is the best I've seen.

The presentation is logical and concise, and the examples are realistic. I've read many Python books, but this is the one that will stay on my desk.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Steffen on July 10, 2010
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This book is a wonderful, and very thorough, reference to the Python Programming Language. It has a great deal of information contained therein, with good code examples and explanations so that it's easy to find what you need and put it to good use. It also manages to cover both Python 2 and Python 3 in the same text, which is VERY useful if you're migrating, or even if you're just curious about what differences exist between the two.

The only problem I have with this book is that a great deal of the content seems stripped, verbatim, from the Python Documentation ([...]). Code examples are the same, explanations and descriptions are the same... It's like the author copy-pasted from the python documentation, then glued it all together with a little insight and experience. Perhaps the author contributed to the Python Documentation website as well?

Despite this, the book is still an amazingly invaluable resource. Yes, almost all the information is available for free online. And yes, you can download a local copy of the Python Documentation from the website, for both Python 2 and Python 3, for free. However, in this book, you have a nigh complete reference of BOTH, including insights into each, all in an easy-to-use paperback form. (While I love e-books, they suck for programming. I'd prefer not to alt-tab between the reference and the code all the time.)

So if you don't want to spend money, go download the Python Documentation, it's free and contains pretty much everything the book talks about.

But if you don't mind paying, you'll find that this is a wonderful addition to your Python Programmer's bookshelf.
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